Ideas ranging from the use of the City of London as an airport ‘terminal’ serving runways in the rest of the country to transforming the Bank of England into a ‘Ritz Carlton’ hotel serving a growing tourism sector figured as visions for the Square Mile in the year 2050.
The visions, from three teams – Gensler; Brookfield, Hilson Moran & Woods Bagot; and John Robertson Architects & Arup, were presented in a special breakfast conference organised at the Walbrook in the City to kick off the Developing City series of seminars, talks and walks this morning.
John Robertson and Arup director John Turzynski began by looking at the history of the City and its sectors of commerce as they have changed and moved over the years, responding with a vision of the Square Mile largely free of cars, replaced by mass transit in a world of scarce oil supplies. It also foresaw more residential communities in the City and near a new Thames River Park, along with a new bridge to connect to the More London on the South Bank, plus a Smithfield transformed as a new cultural quarter. ‘Shared space is the key phrase here’, said Turzynski of the team’s ‘optimistic’ vision. ‘This is a city, really, for people.’
Gensler principal Ian Mulcahey drew on similar historical inspirations of the make-up of the City, predicting that the residential population will lift from around 11,000 back to near its peak level of 100,000 and working population from 316,000 to 650,000 by 2050. To support this the vision also put an emphasis on providing a richer infrastructural environment, especially underground on matters such as waste, and a system of high speed rail connecting the business community from the central ‘terminal’ of the City to runways outside of the capital. This notion would also help with avoiding the need for visas for businessmen flying in from foreign climes. ‘You could turn the City into an airside environment’ he said. ‘If London is to continue to be the leading global city it must think of these things.’
Finally, Woods Bagot presented its ‘Grow up’, non-Utopian vision for the City, predicated essentially on the notion of higher densities, taller, thinner buildings with more public spaces at their bases, but resulting in a place which retains the present character of the place through gradual, modest change. The practice’s design intelligence leader John Nordon said that the City should also aspire to become more of a ‘weekend break’ destination for tourists, with a sharply increased hotel count.
Discussion of the ideas raised ranged from Paul Finch’s observation that it was important to distinguish whether the City was trying to become more like other places, or more like itself, to Eric Parry’s thoughts on the quality of air and sound in the City, to Michael Cassidy’s view on improvements for the London Wall area, now in train. That, noted Mulcahey, along with places like Aldgate gyratory, was one of the ‘grand accidents’ it was important for the City to repair.
Ultimately, however, all the speakers showed a clear, confident view that the City and London more widely would retain its position as a leading financial centre and one of the truly world class cities in the face of competition from New York and beyond. Continuing to come forward with visions about how its future development might evolve can only help on that front.
Run by the NLA, the developing City exhibition continues, along with a series of associated events. See www.thedevelopingcity.com for details.
David Taylor, Editor, New London Quarterley